Lisa Walker Mint colored monoliths dominate the central space at Galerie Ra. They are an island of towering cliffs, pressing down upon you as you enter. They amplify a feeling already present in Lisa Walker’s work – of weight and scale, of superabundance, of overwhelming excess. Not the excess of lavishness, but of being buried in the flotsam and jetsam of consumer society. Walker’s concurrent exhibitions, the result of her 2010 Françoise van den Bosch Prize win, at Galerie Ra and the Cobra Museum of Modern Art, pack in a whopping 80+ works, 35 of which cover these mint structures and the aubergine colored wall behind. Her materials consist of the detritus of modern life, of her own life. But these are not strictly personal works. The stuff has universal appeal. The no longer useful Macbook, broken toys, tchotchke’s, and things that were only useful to a point, like mediocre paintings, souvenirs belonging to others, or disposable containers. They are parts, discards, things that reside in a state of half usefulness. You don’t really need them, but you don’t want to throw them away either. The imagined state (and I am sure that it is purely that) of Lisa’s studio could be an episode of Hoarders.

Lisa Walker “ Lisa does not buy materials for a piece. She is a junk lady, who constantly gathers everything that has a good color, an ugly shape, that looks cheap, that shines, that is flexible, or the opposite – almost impossible to handle. But she can see the beauty in all that stuff and is able to tell stories in their combinations.”  [1] – Marjan Unger, Art Historian

Lisa Walker There is a lot of work and the work itself is a lot, but at Gallerie RA (and the Cobra Museum) everything is carefully spaced so that nothing is smothered (including you). A tricky balance to find indeed. After you recover from the slight vertigo-like state caused by the muchness of it all, the details begin to emerge from the mass, making it abundantly clear that we are not talking about the Pacific Garbage Patch here. There is a very distinct level of skill present that transforms these parts from garage sale fodder to conceptual jewelry. Each piece is affected differently. It is easy to be distracted by the use of glue or hand scrawled marker but these are calculated alterations. Some interventions occur formally (or in the gluing together of many forms), others materially (paua shell, gold spray paint, or a complete painting), then there is craftsmanship (which she has a magical control / anti-control over), and of course, simply via concept, or some combination there of.

Lisa Walker The work is fearless. Her no holds barred approach is a bare faced challenge to our ideas about jewelry. But it can also be frustrating, amusing or down right confusing to even the most experienced viewer. Walker’s works seem to follow a similar logic to the ridiculous Portlandia segment Put a bird on it (if you have no idea what I am talking about, stop what you are doing and get to youtube immediately). The Portlandia skit snarkily pokes fun at the DIY craft movement and a certain cutesy nature aesthetic by putting birds on anything to make it cool. Similarly Walker uses a braided cord or brooch finding to transform any combination of materials or objects into jewelry.

Lisa Walker “The physical definition of jewellery is limitless. This is up to the maker to interpret and translate however they wish. You could make a piece that is made up of a string embedded into the earth, the earth is the end of the pin and the other end of the string is worn by someone." [3] (Walker,66)

It seems that anything can become art jewelry, you just have to figure out how to get it onto or relate it with the body. And make no mistake, 85 of the 86 works are wearable, at least briefly. From the entire contents of a junk drawer, to an army of Lego people, from tabloid magazines, to a rubbish bag of recyclables, all with meticulously braided cords. This is not as slap-happy as it sounds. These are calculated compositions, or are they? Some of the objects are transformed just a little, like the Macbook/Ibook pendants, while others are transformed a lot. For example, “Painting by A. Wood, Paraparaumu, New Zealand, made in the likeness of Vincent Van Gogh, necklace”,2010. Regardless, the approach is always shoot-from-the-hip, straight-forward and logical. Lisa sees something in the material she collects for the work. Something that is already present. In this way, before she plays her role as jeweler, she plays the role of material curator. The materials are raised up, given value by Walker spying and pointing our attention to what they contain. Some of the works certainly give off that as-is vibe, while other works are heavily mediated, completely composed, top to bottom.

Lisa Walker Many of these works are absurd in terms of wearability or other traditional concerns, and could be seen as caricatures of contemporary art jewelry. In this way I am confident that Lisa is casting a critical eye, but I am not convinced this is Walker’s only intention. The work is about definitions. Lisa pushes hard on the physical and conceptual limits of jewelry. It is integral to her practice to test the definitions of beauty and challenge physical portability. However these are not the only boundaries Walker confronts. Lisa points at the blurry borders that delineate culture with in a multicultural society like Wellington, NZ. She highlights  the trickiness of defining national identity, but also class, consumer, and other cultural hierarchies in the global present. She creates jewelry that is a complex hybridization, a confluence of cultural aspects.

“These pieces Lisa Walkerexist solely because I work within jewellery’s issues and limits.”[3]

 Walker acknowledges that the perimeters of jewelry are precisely what challenges her to make the work, but what are jewelry’s issues exactly? It’s no secret that jewelry has some hang-ups; conventions related to materials, techniques, form, and meaning. Walker has shed most of this baggage. Her work is materialistically, formally and conceptually inclusive. And if any artistic medium is right for inclusiveness, its jewelry. Jewelry is worn intimately close to the body it is inherent in our nature and intertwined in our history, so everything human is part of jewelry’s issues. Jewelry is tied to our humanness, the sparks inside us that make us more than animals. Our emotions, loyalties, beliefs, dreams, desires, and our ability to express all of these things through figurative and abstract making.

Lisa Walker Lisa Walker Trying to understand Walker’s inclusive process and thinking I experience both hope and exhaustion. SO much is possible, and so MUCH is possible! But what I find most important is Lisa’s exploration of the cultural function of jewelry and a revitalization of it to be relevant to now. Walker’s jewelry is the extreme version of the most personal contemporary appurtenance. It is the physical manifestation of the mental and virtual baggage of living NOW. It is a stream of consciousness record of the whims and obsessions of an over media-fied, production inundated, anxious, global culture. Like if our collective subconscious brain could turn it’s pockets inside out, showing the world what we are really made of, it would look like Lisa’s work.

The “nowness” of LiLisa Walkersa’s work is reinforced in the concurrent publication Lisa Walker Wearable. The first 40 pages are digital snapshot self-portraits. The kind we are all familiar with from the rise of (social) networking websites. A symbol of western culture reaching the pinnacle of self-absorption, our own portrait, over and over, taken and chosen by us, portraying us in ways we want to see ourselves – sexy, intense, funny, skinny, mysterious, etcetera. Access has given us a place to display ourselves and the contents of our lives, and people certainly do. We’ve got the bare-chested politicians to prove it. Culturally, we are experiencing a proliferation of hyper-individuality via  Lisa Walker the means to broadcast it. In the book, rather than the usual arms outstretched–cropped close–coy facial expression, we have Lisa’s torso, in whatever she happens to be wearing (including her shop apron), and THE WORK. IT is the subject as much as she is. In almost every image she crops the picture to exclude her eyes – an interesting habit we have as jewelers/smiths to render our model identity-less. Perhaps to allow the viewer to project themselves into the work, or to distance ourselves from fashion by removing the emotive power of the model – it is a clarification to the viewer pointing to what the photo is meant to be about. Perhaps these images are just Lisa’s way of proving that the work is indeed wearable, but it seems more likely that our recent evolution as digital beings has given Walker another boundary to push upon within the field. Lisa’s strategy rebels against the conventional framework of documenting work. Like much of her work, these images are as-is. There is no posturing, no pretense, no models, no photo shoot preparation, just Lisa. Both defiantly strong and vulnerable, personal but anonymous, hidden and exposed, saying ‘welcome’ and ‘fuck you if you don’t like it’ at the same time. Like the work, these images merge mass culture with high culture, butting up against yet another boundary.

Lisa Walker Lisa Walker “I’m getting sick of making pieces that have meaning."[4]

So maybe the work means nothing, or maybe it means everything. There is so much inside, there is room for each of us to find something, meaning something different to each of us. What the work universally contains is questions. About post-millennial material culture amongst others. How much is too much? What is value? What is the value of value-less-ness? It’s the hipster strategy of coolness – how uncool/ugly do you have to be to cross back over to cool/beauty? What is important now? The work is fun and literally funny. You can’t help but chuckle aloud while browsing through the objects. Particularly In Here Is a Fart and a Pearl, 2011 and Pendant, 2011 (“I am envious….”). However, when you look at the body of work together, something more sinister surfaces – excess, gluttony, displacement and loss. Walker’s work acts as a mirror. Showing us a snapshot of ourselves, our cultural situation, our shift in emotional and mental priorities.

Every piece is a question. “Is this jewelry? What about this? And this? And THIS?” It is a constant bombardment. And the result of Walker’s search is inclusive. Anything seems possible.

Lisa Walker

Cobra Museum of Modern Art
October 15, 2011 – December 11, 2011

Galerie RA
October 15, 2011 to November 26, 2011

Kerianne Quick is an American materialsmith and researcher currently living in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. She writes about jewelery, craft and culture for Art Jewelry Forum.

[1] 2010 Françoise van den Bosch Prize awards ceremony jury speech. Cobra Museum of Modern Art, Oct. 14, 2011
[2] Lisa Walker Wearable, from an interview with Melissa Young, Auckland, 2009
[3] Email interview October 26, 2011
[4] Lisa Walker Wearable, 62

Galerie Ra & Cobra Museum of Modern Art